Greek Easter baking: traditional bread (tsoureki) and biscuits (koulourakia) – recipe | Life and style

Tsoureki tis Debbie (Debbie’s Greek Easter bread)

This recipe has been handed down through the generations in my family. My grandparents migrated from northern Greece to Australia in the 1960s, leaving behind my mother to look after her grandmother. She and the local ladies in the village taught my mother many traditional recipes, including this Easter bread.

Makes 2 loaves

125ml warm water
15g instant dried yeast
110g sugar
600g plain flour
¼ tsp mastiha chios
3 large eggs
1½ tsp orange zest,
finely grated
80ml freshly squeezed orange juice
1½ tbsp sunflower oil
3 tbsp full-cream milk
1½ tsp ground pure mahlepi
(a fruity Greek spice made from the inner kernels of Persian cherry stones; available from specialist Greek suppliers)
½ teaspoon vanilla powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp bread improver
60g unsalted butter

Shaping the dough for Debbie's Greek Easter bread
Shaping the dough for Debbie’s Greek Easter bread: ‘This technique helps to form the characteristic stringy texture of tsoureki.’ Photograph: Plum

Place the warm water, yeast, a pinch of the sugar and two tablespoons of the flour in a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for about 30 minutes, until bubbling.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely grind the mastiha chios, then immediately transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining sugar, two of the eggs, the orange zest and juice, sunflower oil, milk, mahlepi, vanilla powder, salt and bread improver . Mix well, then add the activated yeast mixture and gradually add the remaining flour, mixing with your other hand to form a rough dough. Keeping the dough in the bowl, gradually adding the softened butter, kneading as you go. Continue to knead for about five minutes, until the dough is soft and bendable.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot for two to three hours, until at least doubled in size. If it’s a cool day, you can heat the oven to 30C, then turn it off and place the bowl inside to keep warm.

Gently punch the dough to deflate it, then cut into two equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, divide the portion into three pieces (do not flour your work surface!), then roll one piece into a sausage shape. Hold the ends in your hands, then gently stretch and shake the dough into a 40cm-long rope. This technique helps to form the characteristic stringy texture of tsoureki. Repeat with the other two pieces of dough.

Place the three dough ropes vertically in front of you, then plait from the top. Transfer the braid to a baking tray lined with baking paper, then repeat with the remaining dough to make another braid. Cover the braids with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm spot for one to two hours, until almost doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan-forced). In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with one tablespoon of water. Brush the top of each tsoureki with the glaze, being careful not to deflate them. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown and fluffy.

Store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for five to seven days.

Zak’s Koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies)

This recipe means so much to me as I no longer have my yiayia around, but every time I eat these biscuits it reminds me of her and, of course, my pappou. My yiayia would make these koulourakia, along with other Greek biscuits, all year round and they were a staple in her pantry.

To this day, my mum still makes Greek Easter biscuits and they are a treat served with coffee in the morning, or as my pappou would eat them: crushed up in a bowl with warm water. It was the Greek version of Weet-Bix!

Makes approximately 20

125g unsalted butterat room temperature
165g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1½ tbsp full-cream milk
2 tsp vanilla sugar
500g self-raising flour
, plus extra if needed
sesame seeds
for sprinkling (optional)

Dip these biscuits into warm water, if you dare, to make 'the Greek version of Weet-Bix'
Dip these biscuits into warm water, if you dare, to make ‘the Greek version of Weet-Bix’. Photograph: Plum

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan-forced). Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the butter and caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed for four to five minutes, until light and fluffy. Add two of the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined, then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the milk and add the vanilla sugar. Gradually add the flour 150 grams at a time and beat until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl. The dough should be soft and not sticky – if it is, add a little more flour and continue to mix.

Yiayia Next Door

Take one-and-a-half tablespoons of dough and roll it into a long, thin rope. From here, you can make any shape you like, but the traditional shape is a twisted braid with a loop at the top.

Transfer to the prepared tray, then repeat with the remaining dough to make about 20 biscuits, leaving enough space between each biscuit to rise.

Lightly beat the remaining egg, then brush the top of each biscuit to glaze. Sprinkle over some sesame seeds, if you like.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until light golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then store in an airtight container for up to three weeks.

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